Though Leicester’s European ambitions seemed to lie ruined as the end of the first half approached in Moscow, one man remained undeterred; almost single-handedly clawing the Premier League club back into contention for a place in the knockout stages.
With the Foxes 2-0 down in the wake of Jordan Larsson’s 44th-minute goal a fortnight ago, former Salzburg striker Patson Daka proceeded to take matters into his own hands and struck the net four times from the same number of shots on target, and the game ultimately finished 4-3 to the visitors.
Daka’s spectacular contribution followed another spirited comeback for Leicester at Manchester United just days earlier, meaning maximum points – and eight goals – from two important fixtures. All of which helped build momentum for the side managed by Brendan Rodgers, as they subsequently went on to win at Brentford, before beating Brighton in the EFL Cup.
Having picked up just a point from their first two Europa League matches, Leicester also remain in the running in a competitive group also featuring Polish champions Legia Warsaw and Serie A leaders Napoli.
Despite their loss at home to Arsenal on Saturday – which sees them sit 10th in the Premier League table – the Midlands side will approach Thursday’s game with a strong home record behind them since their competition debut last season. They came out on top in all three home games without conceding a goal in 2020, and in this term’s competition they were only held by a late Napoli fightback.
Their spectacular implosion at the Otkrytie Arena last time they met Leicester heralded a horrible week ahead for Spartak, as after they sank to the bottom of Group C, the Muscovites went on to suffer their worst-ever league defeat.
An abject 7-1 loss to Zenit St Petersburg brought despair for head coach Rui Vitoria, who saw his side go in four goals behind at the break, and ultimately end up with only a second-half Quincy Promes goal as some form of consolation on the bleakest of nights at the Krestovsky Stadium.
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Though they since secured a 1-1 draw with Rostov – in which two points slipped away in the final seconds due to their visitors’ 95th-minute equaliser – the damage has been done to Spartak’s morale, and a reprisal of their contest with Leicester could arguably not come at a worse time.
It could all have been so different for Vitoria’s side, as they had previously sunk Napoli at Stadio Maradona, and they still remain the only team to have beaten the Azzurri in any competition so far this season.
However, now the onus is on Spartak to commit to attack, even when they are fully aware of the defensive deficiencies which have led to them languishing in 9th place in the Russian Premier League – already 11 points adrift of leaders Zenit with 13 games played